Cover image for The book borrower : a novel
The book borrower : a novel
Mattison, Alice.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [1999]

Physical Description:
278 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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On the first page of The Book Borrower, Toby Ruben & Deborah Laidlaw meet in a city playground where they are looking after their babies. Deborah lends Toby a book, Trolley Girl, a memoir about a 1920s trolley strike & three Jewish sisters, which will disappear & reappear throughout the twenty-two years these women are friends. Toby & Deborah raise children in the seventies while arguing over Patty Hearst & the meaning of life. They find work teaching inner-city day-care workers, a job that leads to conflict between them. Meanwhile, Toby reads the opening chapters of Trolley Girl with interest, but puts the book aside when its story turns tragic. Ten years later we find Toby & Deborah adjunct English instructors at a college. They are mothers of school-age children, stealing time to drink a beer, still deeply involved in their difficult friendship. The borrowed book has long since disappeared from Toby's consciousness. Another decade passes. Toby & Deborah spend a November afternoon hiking down a trail in the park. They never imagine that the outing will be their last together. In the final chapters of the novel, The Trolley Girl reemerges from Toby's dusty bookshelf & unexpectedly helps her come to terms with this agonizing loss.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Life intermingles with art in this book-within-a-book that celebrates the friendship between two women. Just after they meet in a park with their young children, Deborah Laidlaw loans Toby Ruben a book, Trolley Girl, that belongs to Deborah's husband, Jeremiah, who's obsessed with trolleys. Toby is immediately immersed in the book but even more captivated by Deborah, as the two of them--both teachers--begin to share their lives and their work, becoming near neighbors and best friends. Toby will set aside Trolley Girl when it becomes too painful to read, but she can't avoid the pain that confronts her two decades into her closet friendship. Only when the events in the book intertwine with her own life does she achieve a sense of peace. In a narrative that leaps by decades, Mattison shapes her characters like a master sculptor, rounding and aging them splendidly, to create a story that resonates. --Michele Leber

Publisher's Weekly Review

The pleasures, intimacies, tensions and failures of female friendship frame this subtle, psychologically rich novel, which chronicles the volatile relationship between two women and highlights issues of loyalty, sacrifice and guilt. In brisk, energetic prose, Mattison (Hilda and Pearl) investigates the prickly territory between affection and unconscious jealousy, avowals of devotion and secret betrayals, commitment and selfishness. On the day in 1975 when they meet in a Boynton, Mass., playground with their respective young children, Deborah Laidlaw loans Toby Ruben Trolley Girl, a book about a tragic trolley-car accident that occurred in the town in 1920. Ample, embracing, generous Deborah is a Catholic earth mother. Ruben (she thinks of herself only by her surname) is a harder person, Brooklyn-born, rough-edged, subconsciously resentful, Jewish. Despite their apparent incompatibility and Ruben's competitive streak, the two women sustain a deep attachment over two decades, interrupted twice when Ruben causes Deborah grief (and her job) by denigrating her teaching ability (a profession they both share). But an essential affinity always draws them back together, and they debate existential questions in a quirky sort of verbal shorthand, until the day when Deborah declares to Ruben: "You have a kindness defect,'' and admits she's frightened of Ruben's harsh assessment of herself and others. Suddenly, Deborah's death in an auto accident and the reappearance of the book Ruben borrowed long ago (passages from which have been interspersed in the narrative) connect. Trolley Girl's protagonistÄan unrepentant anarchist who caused the deadly accident when she was youngÄturns out to be an elderly sculptor already entwined in Ruben's life. Through her, Ruben achieves insights into the insidious ways unconscious anger can undermine relationships. Mattison constructs her layered plot with the skill of a gem-setter, showing small facets of Ruben's growing understanding of her own failings as a friend and human being, and as she finally understands Deborah's legacy of tolerance and hope. Agent, Zoe Pagnamenta, Wylie. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When Toby meets Deborah at the playground, they strike up a conversation about their children and become friends. Deborah lends Toby a book about a trolley strike in the 1920s, which she reads sporadically and then puts aside and forgets. Twenty years later, after Deborah is killed in a car crash, the devastated Toby discovers that sculptress Berry Cooper, who features prominently in the book, is living nearby. Prompted to rediscover the book, Toby finally finishes it, thus coming to terms with Deborah's death. The novel unfolds in jerky fits and starts at ten-year intervals, and the parallel story lines interweave, showing how the past is inextricably linked to the present. The characters are well drawn and realistic, the language and culture vivid. A worthwhile follow-up to Mattison's 1997 hit story collection, Men Giving Money, Women Yelling.ÄJoanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Watch Hill (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Book Borrower A Novel Chapter One Though she was pushing a baby carriage, Toby Ruben began to read a book, On a gray evening in late November 1920 and the wheel of the carriage a big, skeletal but once elegant Perego she'd found in somebody s trash rolled into a broken place in the sidewalk. The baby, tightly wrapped in a white receiving blanket, glided compactly from carriage to sidewalk. He didn't cry. Like his mother, the baby would be troubled more by missed human connections than by practical problems; also the three-second rule held: as if he were a fallen slice of bread, Ruben snatched him up and ate him. Kissed him passionately and all over, dropping the wicked book into the carriage. She put the baby back where he belonged and picked up the book, but she didn't read for at least a block. Then she did read. On a gray evening in late November 1920, an observer who happened to be making his way up the hill from Dressier's Mills to the streetcar line that ran to the principal square of Boynton, Massachusetts, might have noticed a sturdy young woman hurrying through the mill s gates. The air was full of cinders, which must have been why she reached up to tie a veil over her face, though she did so with a gesture so casual, so obviously Ruben had to cross a street. She closed the book. It was thin, with black covers, not new. Want a book? a woman in the park had said. The woman wore a blue-and-white-checked dress like a pioneer s, but sleeveless. A wide neckline bared her freckled chest; with good posture she chased serious, muddy daughters in pink pinafores. Ruben s baby, Squirrel, was three months old. Go, Squirrel, go, Ruben shouted, just so the woman, sweeping by, would speak. What? Sunny hair rose and settled. He's trying to put his thumb in his mouth. The woman leaned over to look, her hair over her face, and Squirrel found his thumb for the first time. Excellent, said the woman, Deborah Laidlaw, straightening, then giving a push to the small of her back. She left her hand there. When their conversation, skipping some subjects, arrived at sex and husbands, Deborah said, Jeremiah has intercourse only to music. Any music? Folk songs. It was 1975. Fuck songs! Ruben was surprised to have said that. Her hair was dark red but thin, and she was shorter than this impressive Deborah. In the songs, Ruben supposed, people built dams, harpooned whales, or cut down trees, while Jeremiah penetrated his wife. History. He'll read any book about history, said Deborah, but mostly trolleys. Trolleys? Streetcars. He s obsessed with the interurbans. But there aren't any songs about trolleys. Clang, clang, clang went the trolley! sang Ruben, flat who never sang for anyone but the baby. Doesn't count. Want a book? Jeremiah had found it in a used bookstore. He had begged Deborah to read it, but she only carried it back and forth to the park in a striped yellow-and-white cotton tote bag. I am not interested in trolleys, said Deborah. Jeremiah has a theory about the person in the book. I don t care. It s history? A woman writing about her early life. About her sister. It sounds interesting, said Ruben politely. Good. You read it. Ruben took the book: Trolley Girl, by Miriam James. You can t keep it, said Deborah; Ruben was embarrassed but they d meet again. The daughters were Jill, who talked, and Rose, a big baby. Jill collected sticks and demanded to throw them into the river, a narrow glinty stream visible through trees. So Deborah carried Rose on her hip, striding away from Ruben, down a wooded slope where the carriage couldn't follow. Ruben watched: the back of a muscular woman walking in sandals, her dress disheveled by a child on her hip, and an earnest child running carefully, turning every few feet--this way!--as if only she knew where to find the river. Ruben had never been in this park, though she d lived in the city for most of a year, busy being pregnant. Forever she would have to remind herself that Deborah hadn't made the river. She pushed her glasses up her nose and started for home. How snug and well-outfitted she would be when the Squirrel could ride on her hip, leaning confidently against her arm one short leg in front and one behind her--pointing like Rose, who used her mother as a friendly conveyance. Now he was only a package. At the sidewalk she opened the book. Then came--terrible to think about--the broken place, and then, when she d just begun the book again, the street to cross, and a dog she looked at. But now. The Book Borrower A Novel . Copyright © by Alice Mattison. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Book Borrower: A Novel by Alice Mattison All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.